Thursday, October 28, 2021

Conservancy seeks council help

Nicole Ryan, Director of Governmental Relations of the Southwest Florida Conservancy. Submitted

Nicole Ryan, Director of Governmental Relations of the Southwest Florida Conservancy. Submitted

Nicole Ryan of the Southwest Florida Conservancy, spoke to City Council recently asking the Code Compliance Board to review its case and hear its complaints. This is in regard to further landscape work removing vegetation from sensitive areas in Key Marco. Council Chair Frank Recker had asked in the interest of the citizens of Marco Island that the Conservancy please bring complaints to the city prior to filing complaints and getting lawyers involved. Ms. Ryan commented the Conservancy had exhausted all attempts, replying the City had left them no choice but to petition the Circuit Court. The Conservancy stated it cannot allow compromises to the environment and the integrity of easements must be upheld. Details follow.

Complaint by Southwest Conservancy brought to Council

On November 12, 2010, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, Inc. filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief under Florida State Statutes, Chapter 86 against the City of Marco Island, City Manager, James Riviere and Key Marco Community Association, Inc. The appeal relates to the recent removal of vegetation and trimming on the Native Habitat Parks in Key Marco. The Conservancy alleges such trimming and removal of native understory and mid-story vegetation, particularly in Tract Z on Key Marco, has been in violation of the conditions for the original development approval for Key Marco.

According to the Conservancy it is identified as a “grantee” of the “conservation easement” required as part of the original development approval by Collier County for Key Marco. As the intended grantee the Conservancy has responsibility and continued interest in conservation easements for the native habitat parks on Key Marco.

Key Marco Community Association, Inc. has assumed ownership and control over common areas within Key Marco, including the native habitat parks. The association asserts that it does not have a signed conservation easement and will not allow the Conservancy access to the native habitat parks.

A search of public records has not revealed a recorded and signed conservation easement document. The Conservancy states, as part of its appeal, that Key Marco did not comply with the original development approval condition because no signed document has been recorded. As plaintiff in this appeal, the Conservancy requests a resolution of this issue by the Court.  The Conservancy maintains this agreement was a stipulation in the sale of 142 acres to Ronto.  This acreage is part of 550 acres Deltona turned over to be managed by Rookery Bay.  This stipulation had to be met in order to develop Key Marco in the first place.

This most recent controversy involving the Conservancy, Key Marco and the City of Marco Island was sparked by a citizen complaint alleging violation of native habitat trimming and removal of native vegetation. The Conservancy requested access to the native habitat parks, particulary Tract Z, which contains an Indian Mound.

According to the Administrative Appeal filed by the Conservancy “Key Marco has failed to grant Conservancy access to Key Marco despite Conservancy’s repeated request dated September 21, 2010 to inspect and enforce the conditions of the conservation easement.”

The appeal concludes with reference to a letter dated November 3, 2010 sent to Dr. Gerry Tsandoulas, President, Key Marco Community Association, Inc. from City Manager, James Riviere, authorizing implementation of vegetation management plans on Dr. Tsandoulas’ own authority.  Dr. Riviere’s letter states that “based upon the terms of the settlement agreement, such plans and actions must strictly adhere to City of Marco Island Ordinances.” He recommends that City Code Compliance officers and other environmental regulatory organizations be invited to visit periodically to observe results of vegetation management plans.

According to the Appeal trimming took place on Key Marco Native Habitat Park, Tract Z, on November 4-5, 2010 “without full compliance with the original development conditions imposed by Collier County on the development of Key Marco.” The Conservancy requests the Court to enter an Order:

“1. Declaring that the condition of original development approval requiring a signed Conservation Easement be placed on the Native Habitat Parks within Key Marco has not yet been fully complied with; and

2. Enjoining further vegetation removal and vegetation removal permits in the designated Native Habitat Parks on Key Marco until a signed Conservation Easement on the Native Habitat Parks is recorded in the land records of Collier County, Florida as required by the original condition of development approval.”

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